Coupon Hoarding Vs. Smart Shopping

By now, everyone has seen or heard of the TLC show, “Extreme Couponing.” If you haven’t caught the shows the first time around, check your TV listings – TLC sometimes shows marathons.

Watching the program is like rubbernecking when you drive past an accident – you can’t help but look. These seemingly normal people go to outrageous lengths and costs in pursuit of getting nearly everything for nothing. With the constant fear of the Apocolypse from The Rapture to Monster Storms to the very real threat of Meteors, the idea of hoarding isn’t such a bad thing.

Indeed, the show idea seemed innocuous enough – people who devoted hours per week to getting the best deals on the things they buy. The promos showed people getting everyday items for mere cents, if not a single penny, on items from toothpaste to toilet paper.

But then TLC introduced us to the massive stockpiles in people’s garages, basements and even additions to the existing home. Some of the Hoarders Couponers bragged about having more than 10,000 items at a given time, from dozens of bottles of their daughter-in-laws’ favorite soda, to three hundred sticks of deodorant.

How do they do it? Why do they do it?

Many of the people interviewed spend anywhere from 10 to 60 hours per week, clipping coupons from store fliers, printing out coupons from clipping sites, scouring dumpsters for newspapers, researching weekly sales, organizing spreadsheets, and sometimes cheating. The tricks include shopping for items that are already marked down at a particular store, then using manufacturer coupons, many which are subject to doubling. Some of the shoppers explain that the store is actually paying them to take the items home with them.

ONE coupon per family. How do these people get around these rules?

ONE coupon per family. How do these people get around these rules?

Indeed, during some of the dramatic check-out scenes, sensationalized by an audio track that sounds a lot like a slot machine while the sales total counts down, items have rung up as  -$0.03, or minus three cents, for each item. Those savings end up canceling out the items that still demand some cost. If the Couponer has planned correctly, they can walk out of the store with $1000 worth of products for six bucks, or in one case, exactly nothing. Zero. Not even a penny.

But when is it too much? Members of message boards dedicated to Couponing suggest that people featured on “Extreme Couponing” used illegal tactics to get extra savings, and using coupons intending for a certain item on a completely different product.

This also brings up another ethical dilemma. Is it okay to “buy” 75 bottles of cough medicine – at zero cost – and clear out the entire shelf, leaving none left for anyone else? Don’t these have expiration dates? Aren’t cold medicines subject to limitations due to the fact that some people make meth out of the ingredients? What about the stores and the manufacturers? Will they start passing along those costs to the normal shoppers?

There, I’ve said it. These people are not normal.

All in the name of a good deal. Certainly, there are those that use their insane collections to donate to soup kitchens, care packages for soldiers, and areas that devastated by natural disasters, but Couponers/Hoarders seem to outnumber the good samaritans  by people who just want to keep accumulating, regardless of what they are bringing home. There was one woman without children who had enough diapers for several years. Another family with four dozen bottles of mustard when the husband doesn’t even eat it.

These people are bragging about the dollar value of their hoards, many in the range of tens of thousands of dollars. Nice way to advertise to burglars. Granted, one might get caught trying to steal 187 rolls of toilet paper, but the value is there. I wonder if these people insure their stashes. Heaven forbid fire or flood damage their stocks. Then what?

As for saving all this money, what is their time and effort worth, if it’s spent mostly looking for coupons (dumpster divers and newspaper pilferers, I’m looking at you!), figuring out every item, cost, rule, etc.? Do these people stand around in their hoard room and make forts out of Corn Flakes boxes? Sail down the Mississippi River on a float made of all those Sprite bottles?

TLC seems to plan to keep this crazy show going, because there is a casting notice not only at the end of each show, but also on their website:

“Are You Saving BIG? Send Us Your Photos! 

Inspired by the show?  How much can YOU save at the store?  One super fan sent us a photo of his savings — guess how much he paid for this impressive haul?  … TWENTY dollars!

Think you can outdo a super fan?!  Send us photos of your big savings and tell us how much you saved!  We’ll post them here to the blog to see who’s the most Extreme Couponer on TLC.com.”

Others complain about what the Couponers are buying so much of, in bulk. A lot of the food is frozen/processed/canned with high sugar, high fat, high salt, and high calories, or perishable enough that their shelf life is greatly limited.

My thoughts…

I’ll use coupons for things that I now need, or will need within the next few weeks, or if it’s an item that I just can’t pass up. Like when bags of my cat’s litter each had a $3.00 coupon – we bought several bags each time we went to the store (store limit was 3 or 4) weekly, until the promo was over. Other things we run out of more quickly are paper products, so those might be purchased in an economy-sized containers. Otherwise, most stuff is pretty standard.

Grocery Stores in General

My grocery store has a great rewards program. It gives us money off gasoline – a huge help while gas is at $3.89 a gallon now. It also has great sales.

Buy your essentials, get money off of gasoline. No clipping needed!

Buy your essentials, get money off of gasoline. No clipping needed!

Meat

I’m able to get fresh boneless chicken breasts for just $1.99 a pound – half their usual price. When it goes on sale, I get a month’s worth, because I know that the next time it goes on sale will be 4-5 weeks later. We make all sorts of chicken dishes – stir fry with veggies and rice, stir fry with sliced potatoes in olive oil, breaded and baked into chicken strips, in chicken soup with Italian spices, with pasta in a lemon/white wine sauce, grilled and basted with fat-free Italian dressing…the list goes on and on.

Last year, we found an amazing deal of organic beef (no hormones) at the grocery store across town. The meat was a slab, and when cut, the steaks are known as fillet Mignon. We had the butcher cut it into fillets – 14 steaks, tall, juicy and melted in your mouth like buttah, and kept them frozen until we wanted some. The cost? $28. ORGANIC. No hormones. For fourteen steaks. It would have cost us $25 to have that cooked and served to us at a restaurant, and didn’t make me sick!

Usually, beef does a number on me, but these steaks were divine. I want to go back there this summer to see if I can get a similar deal. Once you’ve had organic, you don’t want to go back to non-organic. There is a different besides taste. As a digestive connoisseur, it’s Daisy Sprouts Approved!

Though we do love our burgers, they tend to be pricey, and my belly doesn’t get along so well. But when we do get them, we get them when they are marked down. No sense paying full price!

We also get ground turkey breast, 97/3 fat, and use a few different recipes. One is, we stir fry with some onions and parsley, and when crispy, add some original Bullseye BBQ sauce (no high fructose corn syrup),  a sprinkle of S&P, then pour over jasmine rice. Another is turkey meatballs made with a bit of sweet and sour sauce, served over a bed of jasmine rice. We’ve also made turkey chili – just replace the ground beef.

The Fresh versus Processed Debate

Indeed, the processed stuff is usually on sale more than the fresh stuff. Eating healthfully can cost more money. Obviously, we do eat some processed foods, but try to incorporate fresh, whole foods when we can. Some weeks are better than others, and depending on how my digestive system is acting up, I may not get a big variety in one week.

But this week, my oranges are abundant, and baby carrots are on sale! I don’t get too much of any one perishable item because I hate throwing away bad food, but baby carrots are great for night-time snacking!

Three bags for five bucks? Crunch away!!

Three bags for five bucks? Crunch away!!

Even though it’s only the two of us, we could easily spend too much on groceries, mostly when we are shopping hungry or bored with what we’ve been eating lately. I try to shop with whole-meal recipes in mind for at least a few days a week – I love to cook! Then a few nights are “fend for yourself” where I might have a turkey sandwich with pickles and hubby might make some basmati rice and stir fry some peppers. Once a week, we do take out.

We also usually have one bag of junk food each per week. Last week, he had tortilla chips and I had Chester Poofs (they go good with turkey sandwiches), but unless there’s a party or picnic coming up, we rarely have bags and bags of chips, candy or junk food lying around. It’s too much temptation. And often a waste of money. I don’t know about you, but after eating junk food, I’m hungry an hour later. I know it’s due to the glycemic index – the quality of the carbohydrates eaten. Which brings me back to the coupon freaks. They seem to lack the gene that tells you when to say stop.

One thing that everyone should learn, it so shop carefully. We make a list, and try not to veer from it. There are always going to be something you forgot to put on the list that you absolutely need, but the more you plan, the better you get at doing it. Many people find that having a standard list of the things your family eats most is another step in finding the best prices. Knowing when your own store has sales on these items becomes old hat.

Clothes Shopping

Two great clothing stores we frequent use rewards programs . Both of them offer intermittent sales (sent to your email inbox or via the mail) and coupons.

Last year, I had lost a lot of weight due to medical issues, and needed to stock up on essentials like jeans and shirts.  It’s my favorite clothing store because the clothes suit my body, my lifestyle, and my wallet. We walked in, armed.

– A coupon (emailed to me from the store) that discounted $30 off a $75 purchase, $60 off $150 purchase, and $90 off a $300 purchase. (You can also find these online, see below).- A couple of “cash back” coupons that I had earned during previous purchases – totaling $30
– The store had a “BOGO” sale- all bottoms were Buy One, Get One 50% off (which was the same as discounting each item by 25%.
– There were sale racks of 50% and 75% off “last season” items (which was funny because we were technically one week into the actual season), with some items costing only a few bucks.

We walked out with $280 worth of clothing (what all of the clothes would have cost at full retail, before sales, before coupons, and before the “cash back” coupons) but only spent $37 and some change. That’s an 85% discount. Now, I know that retail stores mark up the cost of clothing by the hundreds of percent, so it only makes sense to save as much as possible. There’s a difference between using coupons and sales within the guidelines, and being a hog about it. I didn’t buy out every Pink Tank Top just because they were only $4 each, and I didn’t buy anything that I was going to just put up on a shelf.

I try to never, ever pay full price. Sometimes, you can’t help it, but other times, you’re crazy NOT to look for a bargain.

TIP: Go to Google and type in:

“Name of Store” + “Coupon Code”

Try if for everything you buy online. Flowers, delivery pizza, event tickets, any retail store – there’s a good chance you can get a discount on some things.  In addition to steep discounts, I’ve “earned” free tote-bags, makeup, perfume, flip-flops, accessories, and free shipping, just by finding four or six-digit codes.

Stores like Victoria’s secret and Bath&Body Works are always offering something free if you spend “X” dollars. When they have those programs around holidays, I tend to get a lot of my gifts from the same place to be eligible for the freebies, and often give away those freebies as well. Who wants this special-issue, one-time-only cutest shade of lip gloss ever? Yeah, I have to make sure I rotate who gets those freebies in my family – I have two sisters, 17 yo niece, and a 9 yo niece who all love pretty things.

The Bottom Line

I really haven’t learned much from those couponing shows, other than repeating some of what I already try to do: pre-plan meals, keep to a list, and don’t go shopping when hungry (wait, that’s my rule!). But that’s where it stops. I might have an extra box of cat food on my shelf because it went on sale two weeks ago, but I know the cats will eat it in the next month. It’s not sitting with cases and cases of other cat food.

When you buy so much that you spend most of your waking hours obsessing over it, purchasing tons of products you might never get to use, just for the thrill of the hunt, it’s time to take a look at yourself. There is more to life than the hunt. Even members of the animal kingdom rest after they capture their prey.

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One thought on “Coupon Hoarding Vs. Smart Shopping

  1. daemonfc says:

    How do they do it?

    Some of them use coupon fraud.

    There were at least two incidents of massive coupon fraud on that show. One was the guy that bought hundreds of dollars of Quilted Northern toilet paper and used counterfeit free product coupons.

    The second case was the guy that bought $12,000 worth of Tide and paid for it with fake free product coupons.

    The guy that “bought” the Tide used coupons that were cloned from real ones that are given away with the purchase of a washing machine at an appliance store in Illinois. Since the store only gives four free Tide coupons per washing machine, it was an obvious fake coupon incident. The store did not get their money back. Proctor & Gamble even issued a statement confirming that the coupons were fake and they did not accept them.

    I don’t know how stupid the guy had to be to use $12,000 worth of counterfeit coupons on national TV, but in the eyes of the law, it’s basically the same as paying your bill with counterfeit money.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the guy hears from the local prosecuting attorney. What prosecutor wouldn’t love the evidence of a national television show that catches the guy red-handed?

    There’s a lot of coupon fraud going on at ebay. ebay and paypal generally tolerate it, and go to lengths to protect the criminal seller from the buyer who was cheated. I know because it happened to me!

    Any coupon on ebay that’s for a very high dollar amount or that says “free product” on is probably fake. I’d be willing to estimate that probably 98-99% of them are.

    In many states, it’s a crime to pay for your merchandise with fake coupons even if you didn’t know they were fake. Sometimes the fake coupon scans, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, you’re on camera using them, and if you use a debit/credit card or check to pay, then it’s a simple matter for the police to find you when the store doesn’t get paid.

    Thanks to these counterfeiters, manufacturers are raising prices, getting stingier with coupon amounts, and are adding security features to just about anything worth more than $5-6, and stores like Walmart are having their cash registers freeze the transaction and call a manager if you try to use more than $50 worth of coupons in one transaction. The self-checkouts do the same thing if you try to use more than 10 coupons in any transaction.

    So, these extreme couponers are just hurting everyone, and some of them deserve to go to prison.

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